Several universities with national and global reputations have witnessed a surge in applications after their decision to temporarily suspend, and at some institutions completely eliminate, the requirement of standardized tests such as the SAT.
Large public universities, including state flagship universities, have seen an 11 percent increase in applications while applications to private schools with more selective admissions rose more than 17 percent.
A decrease in applications to public universities with fewer than 10,000 undergraduates and small private colleges that have a tendency to admit most of their applicants has also been observed by the Common Application, an online portal for colleges and universities in the US.
Removing Standardized Test Requirements
Observers suspect that removal of the standardized test requirement could be related to the surge in applications to prominent universities, as students who perhaps don’t perform as well on standardized tests feel more encouraged to apply.
The former dean of the University of Pennsylvania Eric Furda told The Washington Post that this may be the result of the shift in admissions testing policy.
“This barrier, i.e. standardized testing, was taken down, and maybe some students put their hats in the ring who otherwise wouldn’t have,” he explained.
Harvard University’s total applications surged by 42 percent, reaching an all-time high of 57,000. The University of Pennsylvania followed a close second, receiving 55,992 applications, a 1.34 percent increase over the previous year.
Meanwhile, applications to Princeton rose by 15 percent and to Swarthmore College, 12 percent.
The increase in applications will be challenging during the new admissions cycle; counselors will be pressed to look through grades, essays, recommendations, and other measures to gauge a student’s high school career and their eligibility despite the impact of the pandemic.
Future of Standardized Testing
Many universities temporarily suspended their requirements for standardized test scores because the coronavirus pandemic prohibited many incoming college freshmen from taking these exams. Students were allowed to choose whether they could send their scores to these schools under a new “test-optional” policy.
The University of Virginia (U-Va), which received a record 48,000 applications — a 14 percent increase — announced that it would continue applying the test-optional policy for two years.
U-Va President James Ryan explained that the administration felt this would be a “reasonable and human response” to the pressure that many incoming students are feeling because of the pandemic.
“We want students to focus on things they can control: doing their best in school; cultivating their curiosity; contributing to their families, schools, and communities,” he continued. “In a moment where so many things are uncertain, we hope this decision makes the admissions process more accessible and equitable for students who are considering the University of Virginia.”
Harvard will also be implementing the test-optional policy, albeit for just one more year, clarifying that applicants who do not submit their scores “will not be disadvantaged in the application process.”
The University of California at Berkeley, which saw a 28 percent increase in applications and witnessed freshman applications exceed six figures for the first time, went a step further and removed SAT and ACT scores from admission decisions in a new “test-blind” policy.
Whether or not this policy will become permanent remains to be seen.